The History of the The Armadillo Aeronauts Ballooning and Breakfast Society
by Lloyd Cates
A flyer on an easel read: 30 minute hot air balloon rides for $75. I saw it in a sporting goods store in Northcross Mall in Austin. I had dreamed of flying in a hot air balloon for years. It was 1976 and I was a broke architectural draftsman but I saved up the money.
Jack Jewett was the pilot. At the time he was the only balloon pilot in Central Texas. But he was not the first balloon pilot here. Jack learned from Derek Howard. Derek was the pilot that taught Bill Murtorff to fly in 1971. Derek had pioneered ballooning in Texas but retired to go to law school at UT.
We launched the balloon from Tim’s Airpark on I-35 (now Dell property). We flew west which was not an ideal direction because of miles of mesquite trees. After a short flight, Jack saw a clearing ahead and told me he was going to descend, crash into a tree, bounce back up then drop down and land in a clearing on the other side. It worked, I was impressed. The flight was the adventure I had hoped for. I became part of his small crew. Others joined in.
In 1978 we decided to form a club and buy a balloon. Houston had done this 3 years earlier with the Tejas Aeronauts which became the Houston Balloon Pilots Association.
We all chipped in money to buy a balloon. A student at UT named Wayne McMichael had a balloon for sale. Wayne was a student-pilot but already had some exciting adventures like crash landing into a large pig pen during the 1978 Nationals in Indianola.
The balloon was a 60,000 cu ft, single burner, Raven Rally RX-7. At one time we had 3 gondolas for it; a wicker, fiberglass and an aluminum. We soon changed the balloon’s name to Murphy because of something called Murphy’s Law.
Some of the founding members were Gail and Bob Locke, Mary Orum, Erick Middleton, Jack Schmitt, Charles Fitzsimmons, Pat Mench, Perry Campbell and myself.
On way too many mornings we went out to fly but cancelled because of the weather. So we always went to breakfast to talk about ballooning. Weather forecasting was quit primitive then. We named our new club The Armadillo Aeronauts Ballooning and Breakfast Society.
Some of our usual launch sites were Bird’s Nest Airport, Tim’s Airpark and the grain elevators in Hutto, Texas. The club took the balloon to a big race in Houston and then the Nationals in Indianola. We took turns getting lessons from Jack. With Austin’s poor flying weather this training was going too slow for me. And then Jack moved out of state. We no longer had a pilot.
Three of the club members decided to carry on: Bob and Gail Locke and myself. We got instruction from other pilots including Murtorff in Houston. Later Bob and Gail bought their own balloon and let me fly it. The AAB&BS folded and we with other pilots founded the Central Texas Ballooning Association in 1984.